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Postal union to Staples: U.S. mail not for sale

Nate Homan

The Postal Workers’ Union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Boston Teachers Union have a message for Staples: The U.S. mail is not for sale.

Staples, the Framingham-based office and school supplies store, plans to create in-store post offices after Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe agreed to enter a partnership in November 2013. The Banner was unable to reach Donahoe for comment.

Stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Western Massachusetts have instated the Approved Shipper program and Retail Expansion plan, which allows Staples employees to sell certain postal products in the stores. Postal Workers in the Boston area are worried that this will lead to a large cut in jobs held by working class laborers, 40 percent of whom are minorities.

“The Postal Service agreed with Staples to make little post offices manned by Staples workers, not postal workers,” Vice President Treasure of Boston metro area local Bob Dempsey said. “All of our employees have taken an oath to protect the sanctity of mail. It’s as much an issue of worker’s dignity as it is a public safety if we lose control of mail.”

In response to this pilot plan, the American Postal Workers Union has called for a nationwide boycott of Staples stores, a call that the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Boston Teachers Union have joined. The aforementioned unions and their supporters have led protests all over the country and raised their banner on the steps of City Hall on August 27.

“The Postal Service entered into a contract, not a very public contract, with Staples to put postal counters in 85 stores,” APWU Northeast Region Coordinator John Dirzius said.

“There are six of them in Massachusetts. Staples is looking for more foot traffic and the Postal Service is looking to contract our jobs out. Our people are trained and go through a vetting process. These people at Staples don’t at all. People are looking to buy back to school supplies and we’re trying to spread the message.”

The APWU put in a request under the National Labor Relations Act to get more information on the contract in order to find out, among other answers, how much this deal costs. Dirzius said that they received heavily redacted documents. A representative from the Staples headquarters did not immediately respond to questions about the potential merger between their company and the Post Office.

With the election looming 12 days away, attorney general candidate Warren Tolman showed up to speak at the rally and commended the APWU and other union presence, saying that they represented public service at its finest.

“If we have the race to the bottom, where decent jobs are stripped from hard working men and women, we’ll have an economy based on keeping people stuck at the bottom,” Tolman said. “That’s not the way a good, civilized society ought to go. It’s not where the United States economy ought to go.”

Tolman told the crowd that he remembers when the first Staples opened on Soldier’s Field Road in Brighton in 1985. He was once proud to support them, but he will join the boycott until they “act like good corporate citizens.”

Tolman said that raising awareness on exercising consumer choice is the frontline to affecting local change. When asked what a local voice can do in standing up to a federal issue, Tolman quoted former speaker of the house Tip O’Neil’s famous line: “All politics is local.”

Rich Rodgers of the APWU said that this was a clear case of union busting as well as a grand disservice to the American people.

“You take workers earning decent, livable wages and retirement plans and you take their jobs and give them to minimum wage workers is an outrage. Staples is not doing that well. What will we do if they go down?”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association joined the National Education Association in a vote to endorse the boycott.

“The efforts to privatize our public spaces are dangerous to our democracy,” MTA President Barbra Madeloni said. “When we lose our rights to collective bargaining and to organize, that’s where democracy starts to disappear.”

All is not well in the financial world of Staples, whose sales dropped two percent during the second quarter of 2014 compared to their 2013 earnings. They closed 80 stores in North America and are expected to close 140 more during 2014. The struggles of the U.S. Postal Service are well documented, as they currently owe almost $100 billion in benefit payments to current and retired workers.

Locally, patrons of the Dudley Square Post Office at 55 Roxbury Street weren’t keen on Staples taking over the postal service, despite the common long lines and frustrations with collecting packages.

“Privatizing the Post Office doesn’t sound right,” Roxbury resident Drew Brooks said. “Missing the package delivery and the other frustrations you experience here don’t stack up high enough for me to support them privatizing the Postal Service. Keep it local and provide jobs in the community. There’s Staples in the South Bay Plaza, so if they open their Postal Service there, they won’t be hiring people from this community. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

“I’ve never had a problem with this Post Office,” patron Kevin Moore said. “I just tried to ship something at the UPS store, but I think the rates are cheaper here than there.”

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